~ originally written as a speech for the 2022 men in tubs calendar launch ~
i love naked men. i do. i love the humility of the naked body, i love the humanity of the naked body. i love the humour of the naked body. the honesty of it. but there’s something about naked men in particular that really touches my heart. i mean really naked.
nakedness has more than one meaning. in one sentence, it means wearing no clothes. in another, it means wearing no armour – being emotionally naked. revealed. bob dylan once wrote that even the president of the united states sometimes must have to stand naked. it speaks to the fact that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you are, or how you look, or what your privilege is. there’s vulnerability in the human condition. nakedness is an equalizer.
if there were a factory that mass produced humanity, male would be the default setting. the advantage is that if it works for you, you never need to examine it. it’s called the invisibility of privilege – the greater your fortune, the less you see it because the world bends to your favour. it’s those for whom it doesn’t quite work that usually have to do some soul searching around it: if you’re nonbinary or trans, if you’re gay or bisexual, chances are you already know what it means to not fit in to what society expects of you. it can be a transgression as well as transcendence to step into your truths.
so there’s privilege in being male, but there are drawbacks, too. men die by suicide more often than any other group – especially if they’re older, especially if they live alone. heterosexual single men are one of three groups who statistically receive the least amount of touch. the other two are teenagers and the elderly. i think teenagers make the list because a lot of them withdraw from parental affection, but aren’t necessarily receiving it anywhere else. elderly folks often live alone. i’ll also include disabled folks, racialized folks, and anyone who’s been touched in ways that are absent of consent or pleasure.
but why single men? gay or straight, i think it’s because men are socialized to not need affection. it’s considered a sign of weakness, and men are supposed to be strong. there are few situations where it’s socially acceptable for men to be intimate with one another: you might get a tap on the butt in a football game, but you don’t see male friends in this culture holding hands. a quick, 2-second hug is ok (pelvises tilted out) – but a full frontal, prolonged embrace? not so much, not so often. breaking down and crying is uncommon. being emotionally naked with one another is taboo.
but here’s the thing: regardless of gender, humans need connection and touch. physically, touch slows the heart rate, lowers cortisol, and reduces pain. emotionally, that connection increases dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood and relieve stress and anxiety. this is what it means to be human. this is what the human body needs.
the myth of male invulnerability is a disservice – not just to men, but to their children, lovers, friends, and colleagues too. the bob dylan line that i quoted comes from the song “it’s all right, ma (i’m only bleeding).” it is, among other things, an anti-war song. the title alone challenges the masculine directive to be impenetrable. as the narrator bleeds, he appeals to presumably the first human who understood his dependence and vulnerability – his mother. in his tragic and unjust end, george floyd, too, called out for his mama. it’s often the last word uttered by boys and men who die prematurely in war. at the end of the day, there’s a longing to be held.
why talk about these things? as a counsellor, vulnerability and connection are my bread and butter; and as a sexual health educator, naked humanity is my jam. the myth that men don’t cry or need touch is, i can say, categorically false. i witness these vulnerable moments every day.
vulnerability comes from the latin word for wound. it means you can be hurt, so it makes sense why someone socialized to be strong would resist it. but consider the alternative: invulnerability lets nothing in. men long for connection just like all other humans, and receiving it can be lifesaving. not only does it save lives; it makes life more meaningful. and hot. and sexy. and fun. and sweet. and…